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History of Alcoholics Anonymous in
Alcoholic Anonymous Malaysia
- Group Pertama
September 1971 a sober man known as Enos C. sat in the YMCA
in Jln Davidson waiting for fellow alcoholics to join him.
Days past, as the advertisement he had placed in the Malay
Mail failed to elicit an immediate response. His patience
eventually won out when Pat M., by chance, read the Alcoholic
Anonymous advertisement and decided to visit Brickfields.
The bond between the English rubber planter and English
wife of an expatriate formed when two alcoholics recognized
the similar desire to stay sober. Both familiar with the
AA program, particularly the twelve steps, they joined to
build a community of like minded individuals seeking sobriety.
Over the years AA has grown into a robust organization led
by Malaysians, with members from all walks of life and ethnic
class and religious backgrounds sharing a common goal and
the collegiality of the AA framework.
Moving Forward in Fellowship
founders, notably Pat M., stamped an early identity on the
organization. As is the tradition, members and visitors
(who are always welcome) shared life experiences. Open communication,
trust and a common commitment bonded strangers who listened
and formed a support network in the struggle with alcoholism.
The organization moved from the YMCA, where meetings were
held weekly, to Jalan Alor for bi-weekly gatherings and
expanded from a handful to regular members to scores of
members by the 1980s, and although the numbers fell in the
early 1990s, the current chapter is comprised of over twenty
regular members and numerous visitors. As is the norm, members
have sponsors who provide support in the recovery process,
often taking calls in the wee hours of the night or early
morning when the urge to drink can overwhelm an alcoholic.
After moving to St Johns in 1974 an expanding to meetings
in General Hospital in the 1982 (later disbanded) and St.
Andrews in 1985, the AA chapter in Kuala Lumpur now meets
three times a week at St Johns, known as Group Pertama.
AA in KL is active and vibrant. This year will mark the
36 years of this organization in which nearly two thousand
people have participated by attending meetings or reaching
out to individuals interested in recovery.
of Malaysian Society
AA welcomes all people suffering from alcoholism who are
interested in recovery, irrespective of background. Traditionally,
AA in Malaysia has been comprised of all races in the country
and from different class backgrounds. Meetings are held
in English on Monday and Thursday nights and Tamil on Friday
nights. They are united in the human experience they share,
battling the disease of alcoholism. The composition of Malaysia's
chapter of AA mirrored changes in Malaysian society from
the 1970s. Through the early years the organization was
led by expatriates, primarily in rubber planting and financial
services. Common networks in the expatriate community, who
had ties abroad, consolidated an AA core. But the Malaysia
Chapter's local membership expanded steadily. Through the
1970s the majority of members were introduced to AA through
word in mouth, although the organization continued to advertise
in Malay Mail until 1975. Some were referred by friends
and family, others strangers who reached out to a person
in need. Some were just passed a crumbled slip of paper
with a phone number. Each person who walked through the
door showed courage in taking the critical first step in
recognizing a problem and an openness to change. They were
welcomed by comrades, who shared principles and goals. With
the exodus of a large part of expatriate community in the
late 1970s, the Malaysia Chapter was forced to rejuvenate
itself with local members. By the end of the decade the
organization had become truly Malaysians, led by Malaysians
with a core Malaysian membership from all walks of life.
of the most difficult decisions the Chapter faced in its
first decade was to distinguish between alcoholism and narcotic
abuse. Often these are shared addictions and toward the
end of the decade the Malaysia Chapter began to have a number
of members suffering from both. After extensive discussion,
the Malaysia Chapter decided to recognize the special circumstances
of each condition and a group of AA members led by Omar
and Wagner founded Narcotic Anonymous in 1994. This separation
reflected increasing awareness in Malaysian society of addictions
and a reduction of the stigma associated with these conditions.
Role of Individuals
central tenant of the organization is that AA is not about
specific individuals. The founder of AA, Bill W., refused
honorary degrees, believing strongly that every individual's
struggle is an individual journey and no one should be signaled
out for their efforts over others. While not contradicting
the intent of Bill W.'s example, specific individuals played
pivotal roles in Malaysian AA Chapter.
the 1970s the organization was led by Pat M., whose commitment
to building AA in Malaysia made a lasting impact. Her drive
to expand membership and regularize meetings set in place
a pattern that would continue for decades. Her organizational
verve set in place a pattern that was followed by others,
notably John M., Linda, Kanda, Paul, Saba, Omar, Nathan
and more. From leadership style, different interpretations
of priorities and personalities, the Malaysian Chapter reflected
the contributions of members. Sometimes the input was leading
a successful meeting, other times it was sharing an inspirational
experience, yet others answering the phone and listening
or sharing a meal .... all critical in the difficult struggle
alcoholics have health problems from earlier drinking bouts,
especially with their livers. Not surprisingly, Master L.
was not the only death in the AA Malaysian Chapter. One
member, Kanda, died of a heart attack in a meeting. He passed
away while talking during a meeting, and his friends, after
failing in their effort to resuscitate him, worked to assure
that his death was legally registered and his family was
notified. The vulnerability of members and the shared comradeship
offered support even at the most difficult times.
of Everyday Struggle
every alcoholic, the struggle is "one day at a time".
It is a private battle that each alcoholic faces whether
it is in a restaurant or the privacy of one's own home.
It is nor just about the struggle with alcohol, but the
management of factors that trigger alcohol consumption.
Alcoholism is not a choice, but a disease that requires
intervention and constant vigilance. AA provides a community
to support each other, comprised of members while are also
battling the disease for sobriety. It is through this shared
experience that members can face the obstacles in their
struggle, be rewarded for their success and be accepted
for any mistakes.
The Malaysian AA Chapter was worked hard to put in place
conditions that welcome anyone. It has not always been easy.
The Chapter faced a lull in membership during the mid-1980s,
fostered by infighting among members. As one senior member
noted, "AA members started practicing the disease with
each other." The Chapter splintered with meetings held
in different locations and overall membership dropped. Beyond
the personality conflicts, there were differences in interpretation
of the program, which are part and parcel of the evolution
of an organization. A similar lull occurred in the late
1990s, with calls of mismanagement tainting the organizers.
Yet, here too, the Chapter bounced back, resolving differences
internally and with discussion. The pattern within the Malaysian
Chapter has reflected the pattern within the organization
as a whole, acceptance, tolerance and discussion - with
the common bond of a shared AA framework as a foundation.
the Malaysian Chapter reaches its 36 year anniversary, it
is proud to acknowledge that the meetings have saved lives
and build a fabric of support that has enriched lives. The
Malaysian Chapter, like those elsewhere, now has Meetings
in Penang and Johor Bahru within Malaysia and welcomes anyone,
just like Enos C. did in the YMCA years ago.
By : Dr. Bridget Welsh
© 2007 AA Kuala Lumpur, Group Pertama. All rights reserved.